By Steven Tavares.
Oakland’s consistently high levels of violent crime need a noticeable jolt of improvement, said Oakland Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney Tuesday after proposing the creation of a new city Department of Violence Prevention.
Oakland Council President Larry Reid is also a sponsor of the ordinance that began its path through the city government Tuesday at the Oakland City Council Life Enrichment Committee.
“We’ve got eight years left on Measure Z and we have got to do something dramatic because it wasn’t an easy lift,” said McElhaney. Measure Z is a public safety parcel tax approved by Oakland voters in 2014.
Clear signs that the proposed department is making a difference in reducing crime will breed more positive attention and greater funding, said McElhaney. “I believe voters are faithful to us when we demonstrate a return on that investment.”
The proposed new department would sweep up some non-sworn groups already working on Measure Z project and require hiring an executive director. A memo from the Oakland Administrator’s office asked for additional information on staffing for the proposed department in order to perform an analysis.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s city bureaucracy has grown in recent years. Under Mayor Libby Schaaf the city has created a Department of Transportation and removed Oakland Animal Services from oversight of the police department. Last year, the City Council approved the creation of a Department of Race and Equity, first proposed by Councilmember Desley Brooks.
Councilmember Dan Kalb voiced early support for the department. “I think it could produce some positive outcomes, but I just don’t want people to think there’s going to be a magical reduction in violence over six months or a year or even two years from now,” said Kalb, “but if this could help, it’s worth the cost to do it.”
Support, although with caution, also came from Councilmember Anne Campbell Washington, who worries changes in the form of new bureaucracy might disrupt the work already being performed through Measure Z.
“I want to make sure we don’t lose the quality of what they have put together,” said Washington. Oakland is already seeing a small reduction in homicides, she added. “Reorganizations tend to be very disruptive so I think we just want to be very intentional about how we go about this work. It causes a lot of anxiety.”
Oakland’s Public Safety Committee is scheduled to hear the proposal at the May 9 meeting. In addition, the Finance and Management Committee may also take up the issue before it could be possibly heard by the full council.
McElhaney said Tuesday it is her desire to include the potential new department as part of discussions for the Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget due before June 30. Oakland’s city budget is expected included a sizable funding gap of roughly $30 million and potentially making any expansion of city government a concern for some on the council.